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A picture of a haetae taken at a Korean temple

In Korean mythology, the haetae (often spelled haitai) is a unicorn-lion.


The haetae has the body of a lion, and occasionally is depicted with a unicorn-like horn.


The haetae is believed to be a symbol of water, due to its fire-eating qualities, and a messenger of the heaven, which stands for a sense of justice. It is believed to have an ability of telling good and evil. Haetae are also guardians against against all forms of disruptive or violent change.


Haetae sculptures in architecture was widely used in China and other Asian countries. Sculpture of this sacred animal may have different meanings but are usually placed outside palaces to act as guardians. In Korea, the Joseon Dynasty promoted Haetae in architecture to protect the capital Hanyang (present Seoul) from the forces of fire of Mt. Kwanaksan. Two large haetae were accordingly placed at the gate to stare down the distant peak.


All follows from the haetae's vocation to root out violent change. The large nose Sniffs for hidden iniquity or distant smoke. The big, luminous eyes stare alert into the middle distance, concerned not with what is but with what will be. The cavernous mouth with overshot lower jaw fastens like a bulldog on the past, not letting it go. The well-bred haetae is a thoughtful, even intuitive creature. Enemy of change, it is no fan of newborn things; it will eat a child who gets too close. It can challenge time itself, bite the sun or moon, and create an eclipse.

See also